It is customary for kind words and epithets to be bandied about when someone dies. Even more so when it is a prominent public figure, with previously un-heretofore verbalized virtues being extolled ad nauseum. Such was the case with the passing of former education minister and parliamentary representative for Micoud North, Louis George, who died on January 2 after battling a long illness.
Perhaps no one was more effusive than the institution he served for well over twenty years: the government of St Lucia.
In a statement on their website, George is lauded for his contributions to the island.
“Mr. George served his country with commitment and dedication.”
Even when he was on the other side of the spectrum, he was a pretty stand up guy.
“Between the years May 1997 to December 2001 he held the post of Leader of the Opposition. In those years, he was the sole opposition member in Parliament. He handled his duties with courage, balance and dignity.”
George was multi-talented.
“He was a trained teacher and a trained agriculturalist.”
He was proficient at the job he was elected to do.
“Mr. George has had a distinguished career as a politician and Minister of Government.”
In fact, prime minster Kenny Anthony shared a personal connection with George by way of school ties.
“Louis George was of my generation. Like me, he was a former student of the Vieux Fort Comprehensive Secondary School, Campus B. We sat on the same school benches. I remember that he was full of fun, and mischief. He loved a good laugh. In later years, despite the challenges of his illness, he maintained his quiet, self-effacing dignity. I salute him as a former graduate of our Alma Mater. The people of Micoud North have every reason to be proud of this son who rose to ministerial ranks,” he said.
Sounds like they held him in high regard, no?
So why wasn’t more done to help him?
In one of his last interviews with DBS’ Onel Sanford-Belle, George shared his continued struggle with Type 1 diabetes and its related complications. He lost both legs and had been receiving dialysis for over twenty years. It was revealed that most of his treatment had been private and personally financed, consuming his resources.
Sandford-Belle expressed what was on almost everyone’s mind.
“A former deputy prime minister. I think basic health care is something that you earned after twenty years in office.”
“That is St Lucia. I have carried the burden of my medical condition from day one up to now without an iota of assistance from the government that I was a part of and the subsequent governments that have come in. Not one.” he responded.
George conceded that his service was not voluntary and he did not feel owed anything. His private care eventually came to a halt and he was briefly in peril as he waited five days for the government subsidized treatment.
So why wasn’t he assisted?
Shouldn’t a former minister be entitled to some medical benefits?
According to cabinet secretary Darrel Montrope, public life isn’t as cushy as we might think.
“People tend to think that the politicians do make money and they do have a lot of this and that and they have life easy and stuff like that.That is not the case. The politicians if they serve their two terms will get their pension in whatever the amount is at that time. But in terms of other benefits for medical and stuff like that? Not even as ministers are they eligible for any of these. They would have to face these things like any other citizen. So there’s no specific benefit. At the end of their tenure when they pass we’ll make a contribution to their burial.”
Sounds a bit archaic but fair enough. How then do you explain the hullabaloo which broke out when it was discovered that the prime minister’s press secretary, Jadia Jn Pierre Emmanuel, had her medical expenses covered to the tune of
$45,000 by the government after being rushed to Martinque for emergency care?
At the time the prime minister cited that it was not groundbreaking. He referenced a police officer who had received the same courtesy from a previous administration, unbeknownst to cabinet. They were even more generous in footing a $200,000 bill. It is not a common practice but what Anthony coined a “special consideration.”
Hmmm. One befitting a long serving member of the fraternity who is in dire straits perhaps?
“If any and everybody would be able to get, there is no way we, and I mean we as in the state, will be able to afford it and provide for it. The administration of the day is going to make its own calculus as to what are the circumstances around the incident for them to be able to make that determination as to I can give support, I can’t give support. They have to be so very careful because then they certainly wouldn’t want to open the flood gates.”
Again, fair enough. But according to their press release this wasn’t just “anyone”. After all “he brought to his ministerial duties a quiet dignity, a common touch honed both by his personality and his training, particularly in teaching.”
In light of that stellar service provided by George which is not matched by one tenth of Jn Pierre-Emmanuel’s tenure thus far, doesn’t he qualify for this special consideration fund?
“Persons like Louis George and other parliamentarians would know to contact the prime minister and state their case to right their situation,” Montrope countered.
“Because nobody would know and they’re not supposed to. I’m not supposed to know people’s financial situations. So if you are in that situation then you make an appeal and your case will be determined.” Montrope continued.
“Any of the requests that he has made has certainly received favourable consideration.”
Wait. Is this confirmation that requests were made by George?
“I’ll get all the information for you but there is no request that was made that was denied.”
This documentation will be crucial because it is certainly difficult to get both sides of the story when one party has departed this life. Montrope was certainly accommodating but eventually had to rush off to a very important meeting ironically concerning the burial of George. All the pomp and circumstance that the deceased minister stated he was averse to.
But as was peppered throughout their statement he was a man of dignity and is now about to receive the treatment in death that he could have used in life.